Northerners are snapping up houses in Savannah

The beauty and lore of Savannah, Georgia is familiar to most Americans — even if they don’t know it.

Savannah, with its lush trees and at-home hospitality, was the principle filming location for the 1994 Academy Award-winning movie “Forrest Gump.” Going back even further, Burt Reynolds’ 1976 directorial debut, “Gator,” was also filmed in Savannah. Recent favorites “Ford v. Ferrari,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” “Cape Fear” and “Glory” all had scenes shot in and around Savannah, as well.

Most people, then, have at the very least seen images of Savannah, Georgia’s oldest city. Now, they’re starting to move there, said Jeff Rayno, a local Realtor with Weichert Realtors + Stanford and Company.

“Savannah has been on television and in the movies so much, and people always see the trees and the southern charm,” Rayno said. “They like the idea of the lifestyle. And then when they actually come here, when they move here, they’re greeted with incredible hospitality.”

The challenge, Rayno said, is actually buying a home in the popular Georgia city.

While several Realtors told HousingWire that the cost of living in Savannah is lower than other popular cities in the country – especially ones so close to the beach, like Savannah is — the country-wide problem of low housing inventory coupled with low mortgage rates is making buying a home seemingly anywhere troublesome.

“If you’re a seller, it’s great. If you’re a buyer, it can be a nightmare,” Rayno said.

Russhell Rice, an agent with Century 21 in Savannah, said sales volume is down “across the board” because of low inventory, and that first-time homebuyers are struggling to buy in Savannah because they often don’t have enough cash to compete with other offers.

“It really depends, but people go over asking price all the time down here,” Rice said. “And why wouldn’t you? This is a great place to live. No snow or too much cold weather, beaches are close by, and there’s a lot to do. It’s a really nice area to move to.”

“The only young buyers we see are ones with big financial gifts from relatives or have some kind of inheritance that allows them to put down a big offer,” added Rayno.

At the end of 2020, the average listing price of a home in Savannah was around $250,000, per Realtor.com. Now, halfway through 2021, that average has shot up to around $300,000.

Some smaller homes are more reasonably priced — a three-bed, one-bath with just over 1,000 square feet is currently listed for just $125,000 on Realtor.com — but the bidding wars can be just as intense in Georgia as the rest of the country, agents said.

“It’s very common to see asking prices of more than $10,000 over the listing price,” said Chelsea Phillips of Savannah’s Chelsea Phillips Real Estate Group. “Just last week, I had a property get 30 offers on it. We’ve also had offers of around $100,000 above asking price, 20% above asking price. It’s very competitive.”

But, like her counterparts, Phillips said Savannah is worth the price.

More than 20 historic “squares” make up the center of Savannah’s southern-charm atmosphere, with the official Historic District made up of antebellum mansions, historic churches, gardens and parks — including the 30-acre Forsyth Park, anchored by a giant fountain built in 1858. There’s also the famous Bonaventure Cemetery, which was featured in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

Outside of the historic districts, Savannah is a walkable city, according to Phillips. River Street and Factor’s Walk are full of shopping and dining, and are close to residential spots.

“You really can walk anywhere,” she said. “And if you do need to go somewhere, you can leave your house 30 minutes before your flight leaves and still make it to the airport on time — there’s hardly ever any traffic.”

Then there’s Savannah’s North and South Beach heads, and the ultimate hidden spot — Tybee Island, affectionately called “Savannah’s Island” by the locals.

All told, it’s a great place to live and raise a family, Phillips said — if you can afford it.

“You’ll feel welcome here within five minutes,” she said. “The hospitality is one of a kind. And we’ve seen so many people move down here recently, especially from up north where it’s cold.”

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